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Old 04-25-2018, 04:55 PM
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Mary Pat Campbell
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Chicago sues 2 south suburban towns, claiming they diverted millions designated to pay past due water bills - Daily Southtown

Two south suburbs that for years have owed millions in past due water bills to Chicago have been improperly diverting money designated to pay those debts in favor of funding other operations, court filings allege.
The City of Chicago filed separate suits last month against the cash-strapped communities of Dolton and Robbins, alleging the towns had violated past contracts, repayment agreements and the law by making unauthorized transfers of millions of dollars from water fund accounts into their general funds.
According to the filings, Dolton owes the city nearly $8 million in unpaid water bills and penalties — almost half of what it brings in each year in total revenues — while Robbins owes more than $15 million, or nearly four times its annual revenues.
The suits ask the court to appoint independent receivers to monitor the waterworks systems of both municipalities, collect payments from their resident customers and deposit those collections into segregated water fund accounts used only for legitimate water-related operating expenses, including repaying the debts owed to Chicago.
Chicago, which draws water from Lake Michigan, by law must provide it to any municipality that can connect to its waterworks system. As a result, Chicago provides water directly to 51 municipalities, including Dolton and Robbins, and indirectly to another 83 communities.
While municipalities must pay Chicago for its water, the city is not permitted to shut off water to towns that do no pay because doing so would impose, “severe hardship on all of that municipality’s water customers, most of whom did not cause the non-payment,” according to the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District Act.
Communities that receive water from Chicago and re-sell and distribute that water to residents and businesses are supposed to keep their water revenues in segregated funds to pay first for water-related purposes like operating and maintaining their systems, but as history has shown, that isn’t always the case.
Dolton, which Chicago has billed more than $3 million for water in each of the past two years, has not paid its current water bill in full since July 2017, the suit alleges. Robbins, which the city has billed approximately $1.8 million annually over the same period, hasn’t made a current water payment in nearly that entire time, or more than 20 months, the suit claims.
In addition to not paying its bills, the suit alleges that Dolton made unauthorized transfers of $8,895,493 from its water fund to its general fund — money that should have been used to pay down its outstanding water debt and penalties.
Similarly, the city’s suit against Robbins alleges that its 2016 annual financial report shows the village has borrowed $11,769,565 from other funds, including at least $2,325,718 from water revenues.
Bill McCaffrey, spokesman for the city’s Law Department, said Chicago has been trying to collect payments from Dolton and Robbins for years without success. The city’s lawsuits detail multiple repayment plans entered into with both communities going back nearly a decade that have not been satisfied.
While the city is still open to resolving the debts through such repayment agreements, McCaffrey said Chicago had requested the appointment of receivers this time after finding success with that approach in another financially-challenged south suburb.
“The big difference,” he said, “is that we took this approach with Harvey and there has been some success with this, having the receiver appointed.
“We felt that it was appropriate to take the same step in these cases.”
Harvey lost control of its water system last August, after a circuit court judge ruled the city’s failure to deposit $8 million of water revenue into its water fund and its transfer of $26 million from its water fund into its general fund qualified as “unauthorized transactions.”
“The appointment of a receiver is necessary and imperative to protect the water supply for the people who depend on Harvey’s water system,” Judge Kathleen Pantle wrote in her ruling, which called the city’s behavior “egregious.”
RELATED: Harvey illegally diverted water cash owed to Chicago, millions missing, judge rules
Robert Handler, the principal and CEO of Commercial Recovery Associates, has acted as Harvey’s water system receiver since August. It’s not clear whether Chicago would also request his appointment in Dolton and Robbins, but McCaffrey said the general arrangement being sought was the same.
Chicago had been in repayment discussions with officials from both Dolton and Robbins prior to taking legal action on March 26, but had not heard from either community since filing suit, McCaffrey said.
“We have expressed a willingness to continue settlement discussions … even while this matter is before the court,” he said. “We’re always open to settlement discussions.”
Dolton’s village attorney John Murphey said he’d been working to hammer out a repayment plan with Chicago for about three months, but had not been successful.
“The city of Chicago has proposed a repayment plan, but the terms are such that we can’t meet them. They want too much payback in too short a time,” he said earlier this month. “We’ve got approximately one month from now to respond to the allegations in the complaint. Some we admit, some we will deny and the goal is to negotiate a reasonable settlement for both sides.
“I’m quite confident that the judge presiding over this case does not want the village of Dolton to enter into any sort of a consent agreement in court that it doesn’t have a realistic chance of living up to.”
Murphey said the village had fallen behind on its water payments to the city due to a combination of competing expenses and a drop in property tax collections.
Specifically, he said the cost to maintain the village’s Dorchester Senior Center and Melanie Fitness Center were the primary culprits.
“Those facilities were losing tremendous sums of money,” Murphey said. “As a result, the village’s general fund had to subsidize the Dorchester and the Melanie to the extent of several million dollars, which, in turn, drained the general fund of its ability to pay other obligations, which, in turn, made the general fund short, which, in turn, resulted in the need for the interfund transfers.
“Based on my review, everything traces back to the Dorchester and Melanie, which is the reason the village is in the process of selling the Dorchester.”
Murphey said the Dorchester was in the process of being sold for $2.6 million, and that closing was expected at the end of June. The Melanie also is being considered for sale, he said, but thus far the village has been unable to find an interested buyer.
Murphey deferred questions about the village’s apparent decision to break its prior repayment agreements with Chicago and divert water funds to its general fund, saying he couldn’t comment on decisions made by elected officials.
Dolton Mayor Riley Rogers blamed former village administrator Stan Urban, who retired last July, for not keeping up with settlement payments, and said past boards had approved the transfers out of the water fund.
“I was never informed by the Village Administrator that the Village was not honoring the Chicago settlement agreement,” he said in an email. “I cannot speak for any of the board members.”
The month Urban retired was the last time Dolton paid its current water charges and its settlement payments have been infrequent since his departure, according to Chicago’s suit.
When the issue came up at a village board meeting on April 2, trustees pleaded ignorance of the debts and accused Rogers of not paying the water bills.
“I was never made aware of any monies owed, any arrearage owed,” Trustee Valeria Stubbs said at the meeting. “All I was told was that the water bill was being paid, and I was told that information not only by the administrator but also by the mayor.”
Trustee Robert Pierson concurred with Stubbs and also claimed trustees were never informed of the unauthorized transfers out of the water fund.
“The mayor’s administration never advised the trustees that unauthorized transfers were being made out of the water fund,” he said. “Several times I asked the village administrator if we had the money to pay the corporate bills that we were about to approve, and I was always told, ‘Yes.’”
Rogers said at the meeting that he had no recollection of telling trustees that the water bills were being paid and refused to answer their questions.
Murphey, whom trustees consider an ally of the mayor, responded to trustees’ questions by saying that paying the water bill was a shared responsibility and that, “the notion that the board wasn’t aware (of the transfers out of the water fund), I think, will not stand up to the public record.”
“It’s the village board that’s responsible for adopting a budget and for monitoring the finances,” he said. “It is in my view incumbent on the board to look this problem in the eye and make a determination how to best pay your bills. You haven’t been doing that for a number of years and it is now time for this board to do that.”
Robbins officials did not return requests for comment on the allegations contained in the city’s court filings, which, in addition to detailing past due water bills and improper fund transfers, also questioned the village’s ability to manage its finances.
“Robbins’ financial affairs are in disarray, including allegations of theft, mismanagement, and diversion of, among other things, Water Revenues,” the suit states, citing as evidence Robbins’ 2016 annual financial report.
The audit report, produced by the accounting firm Omotosho and Associates, describes numerous breakdowns in the management of village finances.
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Old 05-01-2018, 11:25 AM
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Chicago Is Trying to Pay Down Its Debt by Impounding Innocent People’s Cars
How a uniquely punitive city impound program combined with the drug war and asset forfeiture to deprive people of their vehicles for years at a time.
On June 21, 2016, Chicago police pulled Spencer Byrd over for a broken turn signal. Byrd says his signal wasn't broken, but that detail would soon be the least of his worries. Ever since, Byrd has been trapped in one of the city's most confusing bureaucratic mazes, deprived of his car and his ability to work. He now owes the city thousands of dollars for the pleasure.

Byrd, 50, lives in Harvey, Illinois, a corrupt, crime-ridden town south of Chicago where more than 35 percent of the populace lives below the poverty line. He's a carpenter by trade, but until the traffic stop, he had a side gig as an auto mechanic. Byrd says he's been fixing cars "ever since I was 16 years old and blew my first motor." Sometimes he did service calls and would give clients rides when he couldn't repair their cars on the spot.

On this early summer night, Byrd was giving a client, a man he says he had never met before, a ride in his Cadillac DeVille. Police pulled both of them out of the car and searched them. Byrd was clean, but in his passenger's pocket was a bag of heroin the size of a tennis ball.

The two were hauled off to the precinct house. Police released Byrd after a short stint in an interrogation room without charging him with a crime. But when Byrd went to retrieve his car, he found out the Chicago Police Department had seized and impounded it.

Byrd had run afoul of Chicago's aggressive vehicle impound program, which seizes cars and fines owners thousands of dollars for dozens of different offenses. The program impounds cars when the owner beats a criminal case or isn't charged with a crime in the first place. It impounds cars even when the owner isn't even driving, like when a child is borrowing a parent's car.

In total, Chicago fined motorists more than $17 million between March 2017 and March of this year for 31 different types of offenses, ranging from DUI to having illegal fireworks in a car to playing music too loud, according to data from the Chicago Administrative Hearings Department. About $10 million of those fines were for driving on a suspended license, and more than $3 million were for drug offenses like the one that resulted in the impoundment of Byrd's car. (See and download the data here.)

Chicago Vehicle Impound Fines in Dollars, March 2017—March 2018

The city says it is simply enforcing nuisance laws and cracking down on scofflaws. But community activists and civil liberties groups say the laws are predatory, burying guilty and innocent owners alike in debt, regardless of their ability to pay or the effect losing a vehicle will have on their lives.

"There's plenty of reason to be concerned that there's injustice being done to people who are mostly poor, people who aren't in a position to fight back," says Ben Ruddell, a staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Illinois. "The city has been perpetuating an exploitative system, charging exorbitant fees in a way that it knows is likely to make it so folks never get their cars out of impoundment."

Byrd calls his car his "livelihood," and he has been fighting for close to two years now to recover it. He says he has $3,500-worth of tools locked in the trunk, and he can't retrieve them. In turn, the vast machinery of government has been working against him, adamant in its demand for his nonexistent money or his car.

The battle between Byrd and the governments of Cook County and the municipality of Chicago over his 1996 Cadillac Fleetwood DeVille, valued at $1,600, is a tangled story involving the drug war, the controversial practice of civil asset forfeiture, ailing city budgets, and the rapacious use of fines and fees to generate city revenue. It's a story of how bureaucracy is used to grind down people by distributing their misery among as many public offices as possible.

"I know I'm not the only person who's been done like this," Byrd says. "I'm the only person that's speaking out. This is really just a money game. The city's cash-strapped, and they're utilizing anything they can to get funds."

Spencer Byrd was a victim of years of fiscal negligence
The story of Spencer Byrd's Cadillac starts with Chicago's balance sheet. Like tens of thousands of other Chicagoans, Byrd was a victim of years of the city's fiscal negligence.

In 2007, Chicago's budget had a $94 million deficit. By the time current Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel took office in 2011, after years of steadily rising structural deficits and a crippling recession, the city was facing a $650 million annual budget gap, not to mention billions upon billions of dollars in unfunded public pension liabilities.

Emanuel's solution has been to try and nickel-and-dime his way out of these massive budget gaps. The Emanuel administration has jacked up the costs on just about every minor tax, fine, and permit on the city's books: cigarette taxes, restaurant permits, valet and loading zone fees for businesses, cable television fees, mandatory vehicle stickers, towing fees, water and sewage, garbage collection, garage parking, even a fine for allowing weeds in one's yard to grow too tall. His most recent budget proposal increases taxes for Uber and Lyft rides, monthly telephone bills, and big-draw sports and music events.

At the same time, the city began aggressively pursuing debtors. "Moving forward there will be no more free rides, debt scofflaws will be found and they will pay what they owe the City," Emanuel announced in 2011 when unveiling his first city budget.

Chicago's impound code, and its zero-tolerance approach to the drug war, is particularly unforgiving compared to other cities.

Emanuel also precipitously raised the fines for unlawful drugs in a vehicle, from $500 to $2,000—$3,000 if the car is within 500 feet of a school. Littering, drag racing, playing music too loud, and possessing graffiti materials or illegal fireworks also all became impoundable offenses that carried similarly steep fines. Over the last 12 months the city issued $15,000 in impound fines for playing music too loud, according to city data.

Cracking down on such nuisance crimes is fairly common, but Chicago's impound code, and its zero-tolerance approach to the drug war, is particularly unforgiving compared to other cities.

If Byrd had been pulled over in Atlanta, no equivalent impound ordinance would have affected him. He might have been subject to state asset forfeiture laws covering narcotics, or had his car held for investigative purposes, but Atlanta police typically won't impound a car during an arrest when someone else can safely drive it away.

Both Atlanta and Los Angeles allow owners to retrieve their vehicles from impound if they show a valid license and insurance, can establish it was driven without their knowledge, or if they can present a court order. Last June, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down L.A.'s automatic 30-day impound law for certain offenses, ruling that impounding innocent owners' cars—in this case a woman who loaned her car to her brother-in-law—was an unreasonable seizure under the Fourth Amendment.

Chicago, in contrast, has no such time limit and no accommodations for owners. Cars can be impounded indefinitely until the owner pays thousands of dollars in fines and fees, regardless of whether he or she was the one who committed an offense.

The result is a uniquely punitive impound system, in which Chicago profits off restricting the ability of its residents to drive. Chicago issued more vehicle violations per adult in 2016 than New York City or Los Angeles, raising $264 million in the process. Those violations can lead to license suspensions for unpaid fines and compliance violations.

That, in turn, creates another layer of fines: Chicago imposed an additional $10.7 million in impound fines over the past 12 months for driving on suspended licenses, according to data obtained by Reason. That number doesn't include impound storage fees, which can sometimes far exceed the total fine. A case sheet provided by a defense attorney shows one defendant had racked up nearly $16,000 in storage fees on top of a $2,000 narcotics fine by the time his or her case was finally decided.

As the number of tickets issued, licenses suspended, and fines imposed have swelled, so has citizen debt. Chicago leads the country in Chapter 13 bankruptcy filings. In 2017, according to ProPublica, more than 10,000 Chapter 13 bankruptcy filings in Chicago included debt to the city.

The state of Illinois goes to court against a 1996 Cadillac sedan
Spencer Byrd // Reason/CJ Ciaramella
Spencer Byrd // Reason/CJ Ciaramella
When Byrd explains his case to people he brings a leather binder stuffed with loose papers—letters, court filings, notices, and receipts telling a two-year-long story in the language of bureaucracy.

The paper trail begins 10 days after Byrd's car was first seized. On July 31, 2016, Byrd filed a property claim with the Cook County State's Attorney seeking release of his car. He listed it as a family heirloom, formerly the property of his late brother.

On August 29, 2016, Byrd received a notice from the Cook County State Attorney's Office that his car was subject to a pending civil forfeiture proceeding. The Cook County State's Attorney Office had filed a complaint against Byrd's car, seeking to have it forfeited to the state.

Because civil forfeiture operates under the legal fiction that it's an action against the property, not its owner, Byrd's case appeared on the docket as The People of the State of Illinois v. 1996 Cadillac Sedan.

(This quirk of American law has resulted in other notable cases such as United States v. Article Consisting of 50,000 Cardboard Boxes More or Less, Each Containing One Pair of Clacker Balls, United States v. Forty Barrels and Twenty Kegs of Coca-Cola, and United States v. Approximately 64,695 Pounds of Shark Fins.)

It wasn't until November that Byrd had his first hearing in Cook County asset forfeiture court. He filed a handwritten financial hardship motion asking the court to release his car while his case was pending so he could continue to work.

"I'm in need of my auto because I'm a carpenter by trade, and this is my business," Byrd wrote. "My tools are in the 1996 Cadillac sedan. I used the auto to go to various jobs. Can't pay any bills because this is my livelihood. I would appreciate this for me and my children."

To show hardship, Byrd had to get a letter from his local carpenters union, prove ownership of the car, pay a $30 security deposit, and show current insurance on the car, which at that point he'd been unable to drive for close to six months.

A month later, Cook County Circuit Court Judge Margarita Kulys-Hoffman granted Byrd's motion over the objections of the state attorney's office. She ordered the Chicago Police Department to release Byrd's car.

However, when Byrd went to the Chicago Police Department, judge's order in hand, a strange thing happened. The city refused to release it, telling him he first had to pay the fines and fees that had been accumulating under Chicago's municipal code since June.

Byrd, who thought he was finally about to get a reprieve from this inscrutable system, was flabbergasted.

"How can a judge say to give this man his vehicle in writing, but the city of Chicago say, 'No, we want some money?'" Byrd says. "It's crazy. They're inside of the state but they want to make themselves outside of the rules."

Why Chicago doesn't have to obey an order from a state judge
Byrd's assessment is in fact close to the truth. Chicago quite literally plays by its own rules.

In 1971, Illinois voters approved a Home Rule amendment to the state constitution, giving counties and cities with populations over 25,000 authority to enact their own ordinances and levy taxes and fines. As a result, Illinois local governments have some of the broadest freedom in the country to manage their own affairs. It also means that, to the city of Chicago, the order releasing Byrd's car is just a piece of paper with a fancy seal on it. An Illinois state judge has no more authority to tell Chicago to release a lawfully impounded car to a debtor than the Queen of England.

Byrd's car was effectively being claimed by two entirely distinct layers of government. He would now have to fight a two-front war against the Cook County State Attorney's Office to stop it from taking his car through civil asset forfeiture, and Chicago's Department of Administrative Hearings, an "an independent quasi-judicial body" that handles matters related "to the public health, safety, welfare, morals and economic well being of the residents of the City of Chicago," according to its website.

Byrd filed a request to the department on December 15, 2016, to challenge the fines and fees. Four days later, he had his first hearing, where an administrative law judge found there was enough evidence to continue the case against him. By this point, his Cadillac had racked up $6,445 in storage fees.

So Byrd had to return to the state court judge to petition her to waive the storage fees, which would at least give him a shot at temporarily recovering his car while his cases were pending. The judge again waived the fees, but could do nothing about any fines imposed by the city. For that, she referred Byrd to Andrew Hemmer, an attorney for Cabrini Green Legal Aid who specializes in forfeiture and impound cases.

"It can't be overstated what a procedural and logistical nightmare it is to get a car impounded in the city of Chicago."

Civil asset forfeiture is often criticized by civil rights groups for being tilted against defendants.But compared to Chicago's vehicle impound process, it's a model of transparency and fairness. Hemmer says his clients often don't receive the impound notices the city is supposed to send out, putting them at risk of default judgment in their cases.

"Many of my clients get all the way to the end of the forfeiture case and win," Hemmer says, "but then they go to the city building, they're told they were mailed a default order a year ago, they owe a $2,000 fine, and we have to go challenge that, too."

City records back this up. Of the more than 27,000 impound violations brought to the Chicago Administrative Hearings Department over the 12 months reviewed by Reason, about 10,000 resulted in default judgments after owners failed to request hearings.

Hemmer says even other defense attorneys ask him for help understanding the process. "It's a confounding system," he says. "It can't be overstated what a procedural and logistical nightmare it is to get a car impounded in the city of Chicago."

Chicago's impound laws have no "innocent owner" defense
While Chicago has the freedom to depart from Illinois state law in its own code, those departures only go one way: making it easier for the city to win impound cases.

For example, under Illinois law, the state can't initiate asset forfeiture actions for marijuana offenses unless the drugs are over a certain weight threshold. This keeps state police from fishing for petty seizures, like taking someone's car for having a joint in the ashtray. Chicago's municipal code, on the other hand, has no such threshold, meaning any amount of drugs, no matter how small, can trigger an impound.

Documents provided by Hemmer in another case show one of his clients' cars was impounded for a plastic bag containing less than .1 grams of heroin—trace residue.

More importantly for Byrd and many other defendants, unlike under state law, there is no "innocent owner" defense in city impound laws. These provisions still put the burden of proof on owners to show their innocence, but at least offer an escape hatch.

Under Chicago's merciless municipal code, it doesn't matter if Byrd was unaware his passenger had heroin in his pocket. All the city has to prove is that it is more likely than not there were drugs in his car.

"For the drug cases," Hemmer says, "the first thing I tell all my clients is that if we go to the hearing, we're most likely going to lose."

At an administrative hearing, there's no right to an attorney
Room 110 // Reason/CJ Ciaramella
Room 110 // Reason/CJ Ciaramella
The next stop for Byrd was Room 110 in Chicago's Administrative Hearings Department. It's where quasi-judicial hearings for vehicle impounds in the city happen.

Room 110 is a small, shabby room on the department's first floor. The carpet is the color of old guacamole. There are three wooden benches for soon-to-be called defendants, cops, and lawyers. The administrative law judges that preside over the hearings are licensed attorneys hired by the city as independent contractors. They wear button-down shirts and ties instead of robes, and sit in three-quarters profile to the rest of the room, facing a desktop computer. A large printer next to the judge loudly dispenses justice after hearings, which last about 15 minutes a piece.

Here is how one case on a Friday afternoon in March went: On one side of the room is an attorney for the city of Chicago. Next to him is an officer from the Chicago Police Department.

On the other side of the room sits Dominique Bush, a 35-year-old cashier at a Dunkin' Donuts. Like most defendants who find their way to Room 110, Bush doesn't have a lawyer. Because these are administrative hearings, not criminal proceedings, she has no right to an attorney.

Administrative Law Judge Alfred Quijano carefully explains to Bush the structure of the hearing and what standard of evidence he will rely on to arrive at a decision. But it's a bit like explaining the principle of buoyancy to someone on a sinking ship.

The prosecution goes first. The police officer testifies that he pulled over a silver Dodge Caravan belonging to Bush on December 4, 2017. The driver, a man Bush says she's never met before, had a suspended license.

After the cop testifies and the prosecutor enters the accompanying police reports into evidence, it's Bush's turn. She says she dropped her van off at a mechanic to get it fixed. A couple days later, she got a call from the police saying it had been impounded.

"Unfortunately, that's not a defense," Quijano tells Bush. "If you had a theft report, that would be a different matter."

Claiming one's car was stolen is one of the only three viable defenses in a Chicago impound case, but it requires filing a theft report with the Chicago police within 24 hours, something no one has told Bush until this very moment.

What is she supposed to do now, Bush asks.

Quijano says Bush could try reporting the theft now, months later, but it's unlikely the police would allow it at this late date, he says. As for the fines, she could relinquish her car to the city.

The judge hands her a sheet of paper notifying her she has been found liable for allowing her silver Dodge Caravan to be driven on a suspended license, and has been assessed fines, as well as towing and storage fees.

One document—a theft report—might have saved her vehicle. But now she says she's stuck with a harsher penalty than the man who was driving her car: "His case was thrown out. There was no probable cause to stop him."

Bush looks at the sheet of paper the judge handed her. She now owes the city of Chicago $4,400 in fines and storage fees, the latter of which will keep accruing at $35 a day unless she pays up or relinquishes her car. She doesn't have it.

"What can I do but sign my vehicle over to the city so they can sell it and make some money off it?" she says. "I feel like that's what they wanted me to do anyway."

"This was a crime that happened to me, yet I still had to pay."
Once the hearings are over and appeals are exhausted, the only thing left for people like Bush to do is try and find a way to pay off the debt. For low-income individuals, this can be a years-long process that affects job opportunities, mobility, living situations, credit scores, and a host of other issues.

In 1995, Chicago resident Rosalva Nava was going through a divorce. Her soon-to-be ex-husband trashed her car and stole her license plates. Using her plates, he racked up $6,000 in tickets and moving violations under Nava's name before he was deported.

"I had the police reports," Nava says. "I showed them when he slashed my tires and broke my windows, but when I went to the city, they told me that because the car was in my name, I was responsible for it. That made me feel really upset because this was a crime that happened to me, yet I still had to pay."

Nava managed to scrape enough money together for a new car, but the first thing the city did was put a boot on it and impound it. Unable to even make a dent in the hefty fines, Nava lost her car, then her job, since she couldn't get to work.

And although relinquishing one's car to the city will stop storage fees from piling up, the profits Chicago makes from the sale of one's car do not count toward one's debts.

"When I volunteered at my daughter's school, they said, 'Hey, Rosalva, we have a job for you as a clerk,' but when I went to apply for the job, they told me that because I owed tickets I was unable to get it," Nava says. "That happened to me twice."

Residents used to be able to get their cars out of impound, at least temporarily, by filing for Chapter 13 bankruptcy. It was a popular option in a system that didn't afford many others, but last year an Illinois state judge ruled that Chicago has what amounts to possessory lien on impounded property—basically a claim over the car as security for the payment of debt.

Debtors can also enter into payment plans with Chicago, but in Nava's case, the city wanted a $2,000 down payment first. She managed to negotiate down to $1,500.

It was a struggle for Nava, a single mother, to hold down part-time jobs, take care of her children, and pay rent, much less pay down her debts. She ended up moving into her parents' basement with her kids.

Debtors can have their wages garnished and be sent to debt collection, wrecking their credit score. Debts from tickets and fines also block residents from getting jobs with the city of Chicago, as Nava found out.

"When I volunteered at my daughter's school, they said, 'Hey, Rosalva, we have a job for you as a clerk,' but when I went to apply for the job, they told me that because I owed tickets I was unable to get it," Nava says. "That happened to me twice."

Last year, Nava was finally able to pay off the last of the ticket debt she had been saddled with 20 years earlier.

It didn't last long. Nava couldn't afford to renew her Chicago City Vehicle sticker—Emanuel hiked the price again this year—before it expired. Within a week, she had gotten two $400 tickets and a boot on her car.

Putting a stop to excessive city fines
Rosalva Nava // Courtesy of COFI
Rosalva Nava // Courtesy of COFI
Nava is now a co-chair of the STOP campaign, a project to reduce poverty by Community Organizing and Family Issues (COFI). Earlier this year, COFI issued a report on debt, including the role of excessive city fines and fees in trapping low-income families in downward spirals. According to a survey on family finances in the report, 22 percent of respondents with annual incomes under $15,000 reported owing ticket debt to Chicago.

Among COFI's recommendations for lightening the debt load on low-income families are limiting driver's license suspensions to traffic violations, rather than non-moving violations; passing legislation to bar local governments from imposing high fees and debt collection procedures on those unable to pay; and conducting studies to ensure that fees and fines don't disproportionately hit low-income and minority residents.

Those changes would all happen at the city level. The Illinois legislature would have to pass a bill granting it sole jurisdiction over seized property to assert any authority over Chicago's impound codes, and that would likely require a supermajority of the state house and senate. State lawmakers and advocates briefly considered pushing for such a provision in the asset forfeiture bill passed last year, but it was shelved to keep an already tough-to-pass bill alive. (Chicago City Hall and the Administrative Hearings Department did not respond to requests for comment for this story.)

In June 2017, the Illinois legislature passed an asset forfeiture reform bill, strengthening the protections for property owners. Bipartisan pressure has led more than half of all U.S. states to pass some form of asset forfeiture reform in recent years, often over the staunch objections of law enforcement. But that won't help those already trapped in the system.

Illinois legislators introduced a bill earlier this year to end license suspensions for unpaid parking tickets, and Ruddell, the ACLU attorney, says he wants to take on impounds in the near future as well. He expects a fight.

"It's a racket Chicago's been able to maintain this long, and I don't expect they'll quietly roll over and quit doing it," Ruddell says. "The unfairness of it all is well documented, but it doesn't seem to be a concern to the folks at the city."

Meanwhile, the city is still struggling to balance its books. Last year, the Emanuel administration announced that its projected budget gap for 2018 had shrunk to $114 million, its lowest amount in nearly a decade. However, even if the economy stays strong, structural deficits are expected to increase again, to $212 million in 2019 and $330 million by 2020.

"I'm almost to the point of being homeless."
In February 2017, Byrd showed up at Room 110 for his second and final hearing before a Chicago administrative law judge. It did not go any better than Bush's. The judge, bound to the same standard, ruled there was probable cause that there were drugs in Byrd's car, and he was therefore liable for fines under the city code.

For what he said was nothing more than giving a client a ride, Byrd had spent the last six months carless, submitting claims and hand-written motions, hustling to court hearings, and scraping money together for filing fees. He convinced a state judge that he was financially dependant on his car to survive, only to have the Chicago government tell him that the court order in his hand didn't apply to the city code. He found a pro bono attorney, only to find that the city code was, by design, nearly impossible to beat. He had tried everything, gained nothing, and was still months away from any resolution in the state's attempt to forfeit his Cadillac.

"I can't understand it, because I'm almost to the point of being homeless," Byrd says. "If I was found guilty or in the wrong, do what you gotta do, but I was blind to the fact."

The piece of paper the administrative law judge handed Byrd informed him that his total fines and fees stood at $8,790. He only had one choice left.

For what he said was nothing more than giving a client a ride, Byrd had spent the last six months carless, submitting claims and hand-written motions, hustling to court hearings, and scraping money together for filing fees.

Byrd's lone remaining option was to file an appeal in Cook County Circuit Court. However, the appeal process is merely a review of the Administrative Hearing Department's decision, and the low evidentiary standards and strict laws make overturning a decision extremely difficult. Of the five impound cases that Hemmer has appealed, only one has been overturned.

Separately, Byrd's asset forfeiture case was still winding through the system. On August 10, 2017, more than a year after his car was first seized, Byrd had his day in Cook County forfeiture court.

The state judge found Byrd was an innocent owner. He did not know or have reason to know of drug activity, and his car was therefore exempt from forfeiture under state law. The judge released the state hold on his car and ordered towing and storage fees cut to $250.

With his state case finally wrapped up, Byrd had his appeal hearing in the city impound case on October 23, 2017. The judge affirmed the administrative decision, finding Byrd was liable under the city code, but also enforced the state court order waiving Byrd's towing and storage fees.

Today, Byrd's Cadillac still sits in a Chicago impound lot, where it will stay until he pays the $2,000 fine for having unlawful drugs in his car, or until he gives up.

The city moves to sell Byrd's car for scrap
The last, most recent paper in Byrd's leather binder is a pink notice dated February 9, 2018, informing him that the city of Chicago is planning on selling his Cadillac for scrap metal.

"You have failed to timely request a hearing to challenge the towing and storage fees, and have therefore waived your right to a hearing in accordance with Section 2-14-135 of the Municipal Code of Chicago," the notice stated. "This letter is to advise you that your vehicle will be disposed of in accordance with Section 9-92-100 of the Municipal Code of Chicago unless your vehicle is retrieved within 15 days of this notice."

Yet again, Byrd traveled to Chicago, went to the police station with his leather folder stuffed full of documents, and explained to the cop at the desk that he was still fighting his case. He managed to save his car, for a moment.

Byrd is currently working to get a sit-down meeting with someone at Chicago City Hall. He says they've offered him a phone call. But Byrd believes he's owed nothing less than a face-to-face with the city officials who've taken his livelihood.

"I have no background in drugs, no felonies, no nothing, just been working hard all my life," Byrd says. "I believe the city just wants you to throw money at them and not fight for what's right, and I'm fighting for what's right."

The problem is, there's not much room left for Byrd to fight. As he's learned the hard way, even when Chicago loses, it still wins.

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Old 05-10-2018, 01:35 PM
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Commentary: In defense of Mayor Richard M. Daley
by William M. Daley

Government and politics are rough and tumble, especially in Chicago. But even by those standards, Tribune columnist Eric Zorn’s recent attack on former Mayor Richard M. Daley’s record was unfair and misleading.

Rich is my brother, and while I love him as a sibling should, I’m cleareyed about human frailties and the inevitability of making mistakes during 22 years of governing a big city. My brother wasn’t perfect, and our family has thick skins. But it’s not right to leave inaccurate charges hanging in the air, confusing the public and distorting the record.

Most of Zorn’s attacks dealt with a huge challenge that municipalities everywhere face: adequately funding public pension plans. It’s a legitimate issue, but it’s not OK to ignore the historical calendar.

Mayor Daley confronted this dilemma during our nation’s worst economic crisis in decades: the Great Recession of 2007-09. People were losing jobs and homes at record rates. Vacant houses haunted neighborhoods in every city, including Chicago. Unemployment topped 10 percent. Banks could barely keep pace with foreclosures, and home values plummeted.

Not since the Great Depression of the 1930s did people need government more. And not since that decade did governments face a worse financial climate for meeting those needs.

Daley’s administration always paid the annual pension contributions required by state law. But when it became clear the state formula wasn’t keeping pace, he convened a Commission to Strengthen Chicago’s Pension Funds, consisting of professionals from business, labor and government to examine the issue and recommend solutions. They concluded that fixing the pension gap would require careful negotiations with labor to reduce benefits, and a bigger contribution from taxpayers to provide more funds.

By the time the commission finished its work, however, the Great Recession was in full swing, and those solutions couldn’t be imposed promptly. Higher property taxes would have devastated already-struggling homeowners. And Chicago, like many cities, was negotiating layoffs and other concessions from city workers. These were a far greater priority than adjusting pension benefits. Today’s economy is far stronger, and the commission’s findings can serve as a road map going forward.

Zorn’s column also decried “the generous and unusually long 10-year union contracts Daley OK’d in 2007 in order to assure labor peace.”

The 10-year labor contracts negotiated by the city were well-advised. They weren’t overly generous, yet they provided order and stability. To be clear, the city always pays the “prevailing wage.” It’s ridiculous to think Chicago would do otherwise.

Zorn attacked “Richard Daley’s grotesquely irresponsible 2008 sale of 75 years’ worth of parking meter revenue for a paltry $1.15 billion.”

Here are the facts: The meter system was generating only $19 million a year before the lease was made. The city simply did not have the resources to adequately invest in the antiquated system. The private operator, however, completed a wholesale modernization ahead of schedule.

The deal also preserved the City Council’s decision-making authority over the meters’ placement, numbers, hours of operation and fees. The transaction enabled the city to deposit an additional $400 million into its long-term reserve.

Zorn’s column also criticized “selling a 99-year lease on four Grant Park-area parking garages to help pay off the cost of building Millennium Park.” Without that sale, it is questionable whether Millennium Park could have been finished.

As with the parking meters, it made good business sense to let an expert operate the parking system under the parks. Millennium Park has proved to be a “great work of civic art, a robust generator of jobs and construction and the latest demonstration of Chicago's audacious ability to invent the urban future,” according to a 2014 article in, yes, the Tribune.

Next, Zorn trained his sights on Mayor Daley’s “feckless Olympics fantasy” and “the $91 million purchase of the former Michael Reese Hospital site for housing athletes who ended up competing in Rio de Janeiro” in 2016.

That’s a cheap shot. Major cities worldwide compete hard for the Summer Olympics, knowing that only one can win every four years. It’s easy to smirk at the “fantasies” of the runners-up. Chicago’s bid for the 2016 Olympics was well-planned and implemented.

As for the hospital site, it will benefit the city. Planning Commissioner David Reifman says development plans are moving forward and expected to create 24,000 permanent jobs and 12,000 construction jobs.

Finally, Zorn accused the former mayor of leaving the Chicago Transit Authority a $277 million deficit. In fact, the CTA balanced its budget each year Daley was in office, in spite of state funds being cut, and the agency provided affordable transit while improving and adding services.

“Fair is fair,” Zorn’s column began. I agree. Attacking a former mayor’s record while ignoring the context of the times and changing circumstances is not fair.

Every mayor faces challenges, some recurring, some new. How well or poorly they are addressed by a public servant is what people decide in every election. Rich faced that question six times as mayor, and it is one that all candidates must face on Election Day.

William M. Daley, a Chicago lawyer, is a former White House chief of staff to President Barack Obama and former U.S. secretary of commerce.


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Old 05-11-2018, 05:17 PM
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Emanuel offers dispassionate response to William Daley's 'big-boy pants' blast | Chicago Sun-Times
Mayor Rahm Emanuel says he was simply being honest when asked a question about city finances and giving an answer that appeared to blame his predecessor, Richard M. Daley.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Monday offered a dispassionate response to William Daley’s emotional demand that Emanuel “put on his big-boy pants” and stop blaming former Mayor Richard M. Daley for tax increases needed to solve Chicago’s $36 billion pension crisis.
“Within the first minutes of becoming mayor, I praised Mayor Daley at my inaugural. … I know he loves the city. And I believe that. And I still believe he cares about it,” Emanuel said after announcing yet another strategic deployment “nerve center,” this time in the Chicago Lawn police district.
“In answering the question of what it takes to right the ship fiscally and on the pensions, I was actually and, I still believe, dealing with the situation up-front, handling what was handed to me and the city and making sure we didn’t run away from it, but dealt with it up-front. And that is the truth.”
Emanuel said he meant no disrespect to his predecessor and political mentor.
“I believe…the mayor loves the city and served the city. But, we had a situation, given what was happening on both the education front, the finances at the schools [and] the fiscal condition of the city that explained why we had to address what we had to address to….stabilize our finances, stabilize our pensions, which created an environment for unprecedented corporate and business relocations in the city of Chicago,” Emanuel said.

“It’s unseemly to keep blaming the previous administration, which has been gone seven years,” William Daley told the Chicago Sun-Times. “Come on. Put the big-boy pants on, and move on. It’s kind of sad.” | Rich Hein / Sun-Times files
Last week, long-simmering tensions between Emanuel and the Daley family boiled over, with William Daley rising to the defense of his older brother.
The final straw was Emanuel’s decision to blame Chicago’s longest-serving mayor for the avalanche of tax increases needed to solve the pension crisis.
William Daley was so incensed by Emanuel’s attack, he called the Sun-Times twice to unload. The first time was unsolicited to talk about how “unseemly” it all was. The second time he called to draw the contrast between Daley’s silence and Emanuel’s finger-pointing.
“It’s kind of like Obama blaming Bush after seven years and saying, ‘I’ve got this problem in the Middle East and George Bush did this.’ Come on. Put the big boy pants on and move on. It’s kind of sad,” William Daley said in mocking tones.
William Daley was not appeased by Emanuel’s decision to lay the blame at Richard M. Daley’s doorstep without ever mentioning the former mayor’s name.
“He didn’t mention his name. OK, fine. [But], there’s only one person he’s talking about. You and I know and he knows: The previous administration that was there for 22 years,” William Daley said.
William Daley said he “appreciates the difficulty of the job” Emanuel has to do.
But that’s no excuse for disrespecting the former mayor, whom William Daley said has shown “class” by not sitting in judgment of his successor.
“Rich believes in the dignity of the office. He’s left office and he’s not gonna be commenting. He’s shown class. That’s a real contrast between the two styles,” William Daley said.
“I watched my brother for 22 years and my dad for 21 years deal with issues in a tough way. But, seven years in, I don’t think my dad was blaming Mayor Kennelly. And Rich, seven years in, wasn’t blaming Gene Sawyer and Harold Washington.”
William Daley did openly acknowledge his brother’s failure to solve the pension crisis. But he argued that Richard M. Daley and the aldermen who supported his budgets “did the best they could” after weighing “decisions on raising taxes in the middle of an economic crisis [with] homeowners stretched.”
He added: “Did Rich Daley do everything perfect for 22 years? Of course not. Did he solve the pension problem? You’d be an idiot to say he did. He didn’t. Did he do incredible things for the city over those 22 years that obviously some people want to forget any of it and, when there’s positive, take credit for that and, when there’s negative, blame the last guy? It’s kind of unseemly.”
Emanuel points with pride to having identified dedicated funding sources for all four city employee pension funds.
But, William Daley said, that didn’t “solve the problem.” All it did, he added, was “buy time until 2023.”


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Old 05-15-2018, 10:41 AM
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Parking meter deal keeps getting worse for city as meter revenues rise
Chicago’s parking meter system raked in $134.2 million last year, putting private investors on pace to recoup their entire $1.16 billion investment by 2021 with 62 years to go in the lease, the latest annual audit shows.

Four underground, city-owned parking garages took in $34 million in 2017, while the privatized Chicago Skyway generated $99.9 million in cash, separate audits of those assets show.


Not a penny of those revenues, once a mainstay for city government, went to ease the avalanche of tax increases imposed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel to solve the city’s $36 billion pension crisis.

That’s because all three of those assets were unloaded by former Mayor Richard M. Daley, who used the money to avoid raising property taxes while city employee pension funds sunk deeper in the hole.

Of the three deals, the 2008 parking meter deal has been the biggest political nightmare for Emanuel, who inherited it, and for Chicago aldermen who granted lightning-fast approval of the deal.

Steep rate increases that forced drivers to stuff their pockets with quarters would have been bad enough. Rates downtown, for example, increased from $3 an hour in 2008 to $6.50 an hour in 2013.

But broken and frozen pay-and-display boxes and overstuffed and improperly calibrated meters that overcharged motorists made it even worse.

Motorists were initially so incensed by the rate hikes, they vandalized and boycotted meters, leading to a dramatic drop in on-street parking. Parking meter revenues have since recovered nicely.

The latest financial report by KPMG provides even more proof of what a great bit of business it was for the private investors, who hail from as far away as Abu Dhabi.

Chicago Parking Meters LLC revenues increased by $2.5 million last year to $134.2 million, the audit shows.

The city had been collecting only about $23.8 million in annual meter revenue in 2008, the last year before CPM took over the system.

Factoring in the newly reported figure for 2017, private investors who have already extracted $927 million from the deal, in part through a refinancing, will recoup their investment by 2021. They will still have 62 years of cash-flow left to enjoy.

Buried in the contract, Daley also agreed the city would reimburse investors for every space that became temporarily unavailable for whatever reason.

In 2012, those “true-up payments” added nearly $27 million to the parking meter company’s bottom line.

Emanuel was able to tweak that fine print in the deal in 2013. That brought a big decrease in true-up payments, to $6.5 million in 2014 and $8.6 million in 2015.

But the audit shows that true-up revenues shot up again last year, to $21.7 million. That’s a 38 percent increase from the $15.7 million make-good payment in 2016.

Budget and Management spokesperson Kristen Cabanban offered no immediate explanation for the surge in make-good payments.

She simply noted that there was “no parking rate increase last year, and as far as I know, there is no discussion [of] increasing parking rates this year.”

Later Monday, Cabanban issued an emailed statement that reiterated that Emanuel “has been clear from the get-go that he wouldn’t have done this deal.”

But the mayor’s hard bargaining “achieved $1 billion in savings for taxpayers, instituted free Sunday parking and implemented the ParkChicago parking app,” she wrote.

“We don’t like the deal anymore than anyone else, but by proactively managing the Concession Agreement, we will work to reduce costs where possible and try to get the best deal possible for motorists and taxpayers,” Cabanban said.

Emanuel likes to brag about making “lemonade out of a big lemon” by having settled disputed reimbursement claims from the company leasing Chicago parking meters in a way he claims would save taxpayers well over $1 billion over the next 71 years.

That’s even though some aldermen claimed the mayor made the lemon more sour by swapping three extra hours of paid parking in River North and one extra hour elsewhere for free neighborhood parking on Sundays.

But the annual audit shows that the 75 year, $1.16 billion lease keeps getting worse for Chicago taxpayers, according to attorney Clint Krislov.

Krislov tried to get the parking meter and garage deals declared illegal on grounds that you can’t legally sell the public way and that the garage deal restricted development in the Loop, requiring giant payments like the $62 million paid to owners of the Millenium Park and Grant Park garages after the city allowed owners of the Aqua building, 225 N. Columbus, to build a competing garage.

Both lawsuits were thrown out of court after the Emanuel administration defended the deals.

“These three deals have so chopped into the revenues the city rightly needs and should have to provide services to the people of Chicago. Like retiree health care. Like extra police. And they keep on getting worse,” Krislov said Monday. “The city could have and should have kept these assets and raised the rates.”
Still curious what's going to happen once there's self-driving cars and much less need for parking. The lease is for an additional 62 years... pretty sure that this isn't going to stay the same way for the entire period

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Old 06-24-2018, 11:57 AM
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Cook County, Ill., Facing 'Difficult and Challenging' Budget Shortfall

Cook County is facing an $82 million deficit next fiscal year, setting the stage for what will be a "difficult and challenging" budget season, board President Toni Preckwinkle said Monday.

County officials are planning to offset the budget hole by cutting spending without introducing new fees or taxes, a sharp contrast to last year's heated controversy over the sweetened beverage tax, which was later overturned.

Referencing that ill-fated move, in which county commissioners approved what became known as the "pop tax" before repealing it amid public furor, Preckwinkle said the county decided to forgo $200 million a year in revenue. That decision affected not only last year's budget but subsequent years' spending, Preckwinkle said.

"We have our work cut out for us," Preckwinkle said.

Commissioner John Daley, the Finance Committee chairman, released a statement echoing Preckwinkle's sentiments.

"Closing the $82 million budget gap will be a challenging task," Daley said. "In anticipation of this gap, the Finance Committee is being proactive and scheduling midyear budget hearings in July to meet with elected officials and department heads to discuss possibilities for cost reductions across county government."

In November 2016, Preckwinkle won approval for a penny-an-ounce tax on sugar- and artificially sweetened beverages. Retailers started charging the tax in August 2017, after it was delayed by a court challenge from store owners.

Under pressure from a public backlash fueled by the beverage industry's multimillion-dollar campaign against the tax, the board voted last October to repeal it. That left Preckwinkle and commissioners struggling to plug a $200.6 million budget hole.

The current $5.2 billion budget, which expires Nov. 30, is expected to end with a $600,000 surplus, Preckwinkle's office said. The final budget for fiscal year 2019 is also expected to end up around $5.2 billion, officials said.

Commissioner Richard Boykin, D-Oak Park, cited that history and said the projected budget deficit for the fiscal year that starts Dec. 1, "is nothing compared to what we went through in (the 2018 budget)."

"If we roll up our sleeves and scour the budget with a scalpel and not take a hatchet to the budget, I believe we'll be able to balance the budget without decimating public health, public safety or our workforce," Boykin said.

Preckwinkle's office noted the projected budget gap for next year's budget is the lowest since 2011.

Commissioner Bridget Gainer, D-Chicago, said she's buoyed by the low budget gap. But, she said, this year's budget will be more challenging because many savings -- such as cutting vacant positions -- already have been realized.

"It's too early to tell whether or not that number can be closed without (raising) revenue," Gainer said.

Under Preckwinkle's leadership, officials said Cook County has reduced its full-time employees by 13 percent since 2010. In 2010, the county had 25,613 full-time equivalent jobs but that number is down to the low 22,000s, officials said.

The county has eliminated its projected deficits from nearly $500 million in 2011 to approximately $82 million next year.

Driven by "rising personnel costs" and higher employee health benefit costs "rising at the rate of medical inflation," total expenditures in the county's general fund are expected to increase by $63 million in the next fiscal year, officials said. Corresponding revenues are only expected to increase by $10.5 million.

The Cook County Health and Hospitals System is expected to have an approximately $30 million budget shortfall next fiscal year, officials said. Since she took office, Preckwinkle noted, the county also has cut its appropriation to the Cook County Health and Hospitals System by $400 million.

Last year, Preckwinkle's office said, the county eliminated more than 1,000 budgeted but vacant positions and had about 200 layoffs.

As the county's budget season kicks off, officials said, Preckwinkle has directed budget workers to seek consolidation of redundant programs, services and real estate, promote contract savings, delay hiring and establish strategies to reduce overtime.

The budget forecast's release is an early step in the process. There will be a public hearing on the preliminary forecast July 12. From July 23 through July 25, there will be midyear budget hearings.

In August and September, county officials will finalize budget requests with departments, and in October, Preckwinkle will make her executive budget recommendation.

Public hearings and final votes are scheduled for October and November, officials said.


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Old 06-25-2018, 11:13 AM
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So don't buy a house here. Check.
If I can become one, anyone can, right?
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Old 06-25-2018, 11:52 AM
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Originally Posted by mathmajor View Post
So don't buy a house here. Check.
It's a question of who the government is going to choose to harm. Will it be the unions and government workers? or the poor?
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Old 06-26-2018, 11:51 PM
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Originally Posted by whisper View Post
It's a question of who the government is going to choose to harm. Will it be the unions and government workers? or the poor?
it's always the poor. but the not yet known. but they have constitutional protections for the pensioners so...this could be interesting.
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Old 06-27-2018, 09:01 AM
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such "protections" don't help when the money is gone.

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